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Revelation Made Simple

Updated: May 28, 2023


The Second Coming of Christ

What do you feel when you read the book of Revelation? Many people feel afraid, hesitant, or confused. With all the pictures and imagery, it’s no wonder few people feel comfortable reading it. But fear not, this blog will make reading the book of Revelation much simpler for you.[1]


The authorship of Revelation is generally attributed to the Apostle John. He also wrote the Gospel of John,[2] and 1, 2, and 3 John. Some scholars believe John the Elder authored the Book of Revelation, but this is not the place to delve into detailed discussions on authorship.


Revelation was written when there was intense persecution of the Christian church under the Roman Empire. It is commonly accepted that John wrote Revelation during the reign of Emperor Domitian, somewhere between 81–96 AD.


The book was written to the seven churches in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). These churches where in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. While Revelation was written to these churches, it is also written for us, today. Each of these seven churches received a specific message and exhortation from the risen Christ. These messages where conveyed to John through his visionary experiences of Jesus. Although these messages were specific for the seven churches, their message is relevant to all of us as well, that is Christians throughout church history can apply the lessons to themselves and our churches. Jesus’s messages to these churches are still significant for the modern church, more than ever.


You would have noticed when reading the book of Revelation that it is highly symbolic and apocalyptic, meaning that it uses vivid imagery and unusual visions to give messages of hope, encouragement, warning, and divine judgment.


In the context of the early church to which John writes, there was a growing alliance with pagan political power which soon develop into a false religion. As a result, Christians were beginning to face enormous pressure to give in to compromise with the world to avoid persecution and suffering under the Roman Empire. Yet, John writes to encourage believers to confess Christ openly with the knowledge that confessing him and standing up for truth might cost them dearly.


In light of this, Revelation has a double-edged message. It is filled with comfort and hope for those who are being persecuted, but it’s also a warning for those who have compromised their faith and have become complacent.


So, the main message of Revelation is overcoming. And there are special promises for those who overcome. I encourage you to read Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26–29; 3:5–6, 12–13, 21–22). And near the centre of the book we read, “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” (Revelation 12:11). At the end of the book, John writes about his vision of the new Jerusalem where there is the following promise, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son (or daughter)” (Revelation 21:7). We are challenged to overcome at the start of Revelation, and at the centre John acknowledges our struggle to overcome, but at the end of his book, he tells us that there is an inheritance for those believers who do overcome and are faithful to the end.


You might be surprised as I was to learn that the book of Revelation is not actually a book, it’s a letter. It is a prophetic letter which includes proclamation of God’s truth for the present, as well as predictions for future events. It’s like the Old Testament prophetic literature in many ways. The letter is filled with powerful images and language that were also used by the Old Testament prophets. I find it helpful to think of this letter written for Christians who live in the already of Jesus’s cross and resurrection, and the not yet of his Second Coming and the consummation of his kingdom.


The book (or shall I say “letter”) of Revelation is also an apocalyptic letter. In this sense it tells us of God’s intervention in human history to destroy evil and then establish and finally consummate his glorious kingdom. This form of writing also uses Hebrew prophecy during times of crises, remember that the Christians were being persecuted severely for their faith. Think of Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah for example. And so, one might expect to see many strange images, some of them are, quite frankly, bizarre! But this is picture language that only the Christians at the time could understand because they were familiar with the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. These pictures of locusts with scorpion’s tails and human heads (9:10); a woman clothed with the sun (12:1), and a beast with seven heads and ten horns (13:1), for example, would have made no sense to the Romans who were persecuting them. It was a bit like using code to encourage Christians.


The purpose of the Book of Revelation was to help persecuted Christians get a proper perspective of their own situation and the world in which they live. It helped them, you and I included, to see the present considering God’s victorious final outcome. And Revelation uses the picture language of a specific time and culture to achieve that. But more than this, Revelation also answers the question “Who is Lord?” and “Who is in control?” In our day, it’s not Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or any of the political elites or technocrats, and in John’s day, it was not the Emperor of Rome. The Lord is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Alpha, and the Omega! (Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13). And it is he who is in control. And the good news is that he is coming back soon to set things right.


If you read Revelation considering the above, it will make it much simpler for you to understand. However, there are four main views on how one should interpret the book of Revelation, they are:


The Preterist View: This view takes the historical context very seriously and tries to understand Revelation the way that John’s original audience would have understood it. And so, many of the events of Revelation are believed to have already been fulfilled in the first century.


The Historicist View: This view holds that Revelation is an outline of what has happened throughout the history of Christianity, from the early church up until the Second Coming of Christ.

The Futurist View: Most of Revelation is believed to be about the future events that will immediately precede the end of history, according to this view.


The Idealist View: Here, the book of Revelation is not viewed in terms of any reference to time. Instead, the Idealist View says that Revelation relates to the ongoing struggle between good and evil.


So, which is the correct view, you might ask? Well, the answer is all of them, to one degree or another. This approach is called the eclectic approach which combines the best of each of the above four views. It takes the historical context of Revelation seriously; it reminds us that there are timeless truths as we remain faithful through our struggle between good and evil; John’s visions challenge you and I to not become complacent in our Christian faith, but to stay faithful and devoted despite persecution; and yet, Revelation also has something to say about the future, like the return of Jesus Christ, judgement, the new creation and the new Jerusalem.


Here are some guidelines that will help you towards a simpler reading of Revelation. Read it with humility; try to discover John’s message to his original readers; DON’T try and discover a chronological order of future events, Revelation isn’t written like that and neither was it written for that purpose; take the book of Revelation seriously; pay attention when John tells you what a specific image means; John’s use of imagery is rather fluid at times, so keep that in mind; give careful consideration to the Old Testament and the historical-cultural context when interpreting the images and symbols; And most importantly, focus on the main idea which I have discussed above, rather than pressing all the details.


It is often said that one should generally read the Bible literally, depending on the literary genre, like proverbs and parables, but when reading Revelation, the opposite is true, you shouldn’t read it literally, except when there is reason to do so, for example the message to the seven churches, and Jesus Second Coming. In other words, let the context call for a literal reading.


I have just encouraged you not to focus on the symbolic details, but I know many of you want to know what some of those symbols and images mean, so here’s a list that I find helpful, click here. I hope that this has encouraged you to read the book of Revelation and that it’s not quite as daunting as it might have been previously. Check the helpful resources below.


Resources









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Notes: [1] The content for this blog is a summary of chapter 17 from J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. 2020. Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (4th ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan. [2] I realize there is scholarly debate about a Johannine community.


Picture of earth by 0fjd125gk87 (Pixabay) available here.

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